Dr. Judith M. Newman

Revision in Business Writing

Not many writers are able to express themselves clearly and effectively in a first draft. You may be able to write quite quickly and easily with little or not revision for short, routine business communication. However, for most business writing—especially longer, more complex letters and reports—you should expect to revise, sometimes substantially, to be sure you've said exactly what you meant to say in way that the reader will understand.

Think about your readers

If you send out the first draft of your letter or report, you are not serving your readers well. Not only are you running the risk that readers may misinterpret or be confused by what you have to say, but you are also risking your readers' low opinion of you and your writing: careless, hasty, unrevised writing is always apparent.

Assuming the role of reader

You have to distance yourself from your writing if you want to revise effectively. You need to be able to shift your perspective from writer to that of reader.

To accomplish that, you need to step away from the writing, if possible leaving it for a day or more. You may not have the luxury of that amount of time but you can put the writing aside while you grab a bite to eat, or work on something else. Unless you distance yourself from the writing, you will see only what you think is on the page instead of what is actually there. A bit of time allows you to shift perspective from writer to that of reader.

Achieving distance from your writing can be difficult; however, the following questions should help you be more systematic as you revise your writing and at the same time help you keep your reader in mind as you decide on appropriate detail, language, tone, organization and, lastly, correctness.

What to Include - Detail

  1. What is my purpose for writing this piece?
  2. Why might a reader be interested in my message/argument?
  3. What does my reader need to know to understand my argument?
  4. Have I given adequate information for readers to follow my argument?
  5. Does my writing answer the reader's potential questions?
  6. Have I included ONLY the material essential to my reader's purpose and understanding? Have I included unessential and/or obvious information?

Aiming for Conciseness and Clarity - Language

  1. Have I considered my readers' prior knowledge?
  2. Have I poured out ideas and facts too rapidly for the reader's comprehension?
  3. Have I been concise?
  4. Are my words vague instead of concrete?

Click here for examples.

Tailoring Language to Your Audience - Tone

  1. Was I helpful and informative?
  2. Does my message/argument take into account the reader's prior knowledge?
  3. Am I writing directly to the reader?
  4. Does the writing avoid talking down to readers?
  5. Is the writing positive?
  6. If I've included controversial ideas have I framed them as arguments and not as assertions?

Click here for examples.

Fitting the Form to Message and Audience - Organization

  1. Have I considered the reader's reaction to my message?
  2. Have I used a direct approach beginning with the main idea and folowing with necessary explanation?
  3. Have I used an indirect approach providing detail before resenting my main thesis?
  4. Is the argument logical?
  5. Have I provided connections/transitions between sections of the argument?

Using Conventional Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation - Correctness

Once you're done, you should now read through your final drafts carefully—looking for the errors which you frequently commit. Slowly read through your writing once for EACH of these errors so that you can clean up the writing.

Click here for help with dealing with correctness.